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Suggestions for Helping Freshmen to Learn


Strategies for organizing information Strategies for making material meaningful Defining learning explicitly Problem solving for students Providing structure & direction

Strategies for organizing information.

  • highlight your major points both at the beginning and the end of a lecture.
  • distribute before the lecture (on iLearn) or write on the board/overhead a skeletal outline showing your agenda and how you will structure your topic.
  • summarize periodically (at least twice in 50 minutes).
  • use analogies and metaphors that relate to student experience.
  • explicitly distinguish between generalizations and examples, conclusions and evidence, trends and isolated events. This helps to develop their critical thinking abilities.

Strategies for making material meaningful to their young minds.

  • plan lectures in 3 or 4 segments to reflect the 3 or 4 major concepts you will cover and actively engage students (in some of the ways mentioned below) during and between those segments.
  • encourage students to paraphrase in their own words.
  • encourage students to generate examples from their own experience (and thus connect new information to what they already know) or make connections, e.g., by completing a phrase like "the last time I saw a problem like this was...".
  • encourage students to think more deeply (I know this is a stretch) about the material, e.g. by completing a thought like "this information might explain why..."
  • use combinations of mathematical, visual/graphical, and verbal representations and ask students to do the same.

Be explicit about how you define learning and provide a lot of opportunity for practice.

  • explain to students that problems won't always map directly from the ones they've seen before because one of the goals of learning is to be able to use concepts and principles in new situations.
  • design assignments and exams to reflect the above (don't spring problem types on freshmen on exams when they've never seen that type before).

Teach students to make the most of opportunities to practice thinking and problem solving.

  • teach how to verbalize steps in thinking through a problem or issue (e.g. in small groups or with documented problem sets).
  • encourage reflection in order to help students see strategies and patterns across problems and solutions and perhaps analyze error patterns in their own work, for example allow students to "redo" problems with documentation that indicates "what I did wrong last time" and "what I learned from reworking the problem" or encourage students to visit the TA to have these types of conversation.
  • create a discussion board in iLearn that can act as a virtual office location.

Provide a lot of structure and direction (the more the better).

  • clearly define your expectations and course goals (in your syllabi).
  • create feedback mechanisms and be proactive in getting to students (use iLearn to communicate to your students) because they often won't seek help on their own (e.g. invite them to your office by e-mail or on returned quizzes/exams).

Drawn from: Entwistle, N. (1988). Styles of Learning and Teaching. London: David Fulton Publishers; Erickson, B.L.

Strommer, D.W. (1991). Teaching College Freshmen. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. McKeachie, W.J., Pintrich, P.R., Lin, Y.G. and Sharm, R. (1986). Teaching and Learning in the College Classroom: A Review of the Research Literature. Ann Arbor, Michigan: National Center For Research To Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning.


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